Faith Works 7-9-16
Summer Reading, a 66 Book List
Do you really still think reading the Bible is important?
Honestly, I can't recall ever getting that question asked of me in so many words, but by implication and indirection and indifference, I feel it raised all the time.
It's a commonplace even among Christians that for too many of our tribe, reading the Bible is honored by word, and not in deed; we keep buying and giving copies of the Holy Scriptures, and some of us keep them in pride of place out in view at home or work . . . but reading it. Study after study, and many parson's experiences, tell us that it's just not done on a scale that sales figures might make you think.
Nudge a Bible in a house, and see the dust-free rectangle (and nervously shove it back in place, lest you reveal their nakedness); get beyond the "Believers' Greatest Hits" passages, and find a nervous uncertainty out there.
We can market the "Gen X Bible" or "God's Word for Millennials" in shiny covers, but in general, they all have the same 66 books inside, 39 in the Old Testament, 27 in the New, with variation in Catholic and Orthodox Bibles but still largely under the same general division (the Apocrypha we can talk about some other day, and should).
There are now literally over a hundred English translations, with mild variations of taste and flavor embedded in their diversity, from the handful we had a hundred years ago to the riotous assemblage today.
Even earlier than four hundred years ago, Calvinists and Catholics had access to either the Geneva or Reims translations of the Gospels, and so their "Lord's Prayer" used "debts" and "debtors," while the early English translator William Tyndal and the Anglican Book of Common Prayer which looked to his example employed "trespasses" and "those who trespass against us." So Presbyterians and many Baptists use debts, Episcopalians and Methodists and those influenced by them use trespasses. But in the end: to-may-to, to-mah-to?
The point is that now it is easier to find and understand the texts of the Bible than at any point in the last 3,000 plus years of its use in faith communities, and we wonder if those words speak to us more than perhaps any era before, either.
The shortest answer I can give you all is: yes, I believe the Bible still speaks to the human condition. I can also muster the arguments for how the Torah, Prophets, and Writings of the Hebrew Scriptures, along with the Gospels, sacred history, and apostolic writings of the Greek Testament, combine to present for flawed, sinful human creatures the very voice of God. But I'm acutely aware that many of you reading this do not start from a place of personal faith commitment, and to you I want to offer a slightly different take on the whole question of "why read the Bible?"
I think the most common modern critique is also the best argument in defense of my Holy Book. Yes, it's all "old stuff." Even the part called "New" is mostly close to two thousand years old. The Davidic psalms go back another thousand, and there's a case to be made for Job and part of the oldest poetry of the beginning of the Bible, the Song of the Sea in Exodus and the Song of Miriam, Deborah's hymn in Judges, and indeed parts of the Creation narrative itself go back another thousand and more.
But how is saying that "it's old" an argument to invalidate it? It's one thing to say "don't ask grandma about whether or not to update to Windows 10," and another to say "what would grandma know about love and marriage, at her age?" C'mon. Some things change, and of the human condition, other things don't . . . or at least should be taken into consideration. Grandma might know something about dating and relationships and commitment (and getting your heart broken, and moving on from loss without compounding your troubles, etc.) that your friend at work doesn't.
The Bible is not 66 books picked at random. Anyone who knows ancient literature knows there's lots of stuff out there. Why did the body of the faithful over millennia choose THESE books, as guides to seeking the divine presence, as channel markers for moral behavior, as sheltering rocks in a dry and weary land for those who wander?
Looking for some good summer reading? It's nearby. Why not just try reading Ruth, Ecclesiastes, Daniel, and Philemon? See what you think. They might just lead you further in.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's read most of the Bible more than once, but keeps finding new things where he least expected. Tell him what you find in the Bible at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.